Hover over this image for immense joy.
Time to take a last minute advantage of a blogalong deal with The Incredible Suit’s attempt at world blog domination. Want more details? Read about it here. (Warning: It’s in British English which I assume is slightly different and therefore inferior to my Canadian English). I sadly missed out on all opportunities to blog about the first three films which are sometimes known amongst fans as “the good ones” but I still want to take a shot at reviewing a Bond flick. So I’m stuck watching the two-hour-plus of Thunderball.
On paper, Thunderball should’ve been a lot better. It was directed Terence Young who directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Young’s not really a name spoken to often outside the Bond fan base, but he also made the great 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark and a film I haven’t seen called Soleil rouge that has the strange cast of Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Toshirô Mifune, and Charles Bronson. It looks pretty bad, but that’s what I expect from a film where samurai’s fight euro-cowboys.
Outside having a good Bond director, we have other goodies to boast the appeal of the film. Thunderball had the highest budget of any Bond film to this point and was the first one shot at 2.35:1. This film is mint looking on blu and you can really appreciate the details of these sets since the image is an obvious step up from any other format this film’s been released on. I could watch the introductory scene of the attractive anonymous ladies swooshing around to the sound of Mr. Tom Jones on repeat for a good while. If you don’t care for Tom Jones, consider yourself lucky you didn’t get that other Bond theme made for Thunderball. Country singer Johnny Cash did his own Thunderball theme which was released on a few compilation albums and not used for the film. Works for me as the song would be more appropriate for some sort of underwater-western.
Johnny Cash sings Thunderball. Bizarre.
The Blu-ray is an easy recommendation if you love yourself some Thunderball. The Blu-ray contains all the bonus features from the 2006 Ultimate Edition disc and still has the confusingly titled menus called “minisitry of propaganda” and “007 mission control” so good luck finding what you are looking for. Cause, y’know, that three-second TV advert for the film on the disc will change your life I’m sure.
As for the film itself, it does feel like a drop in quality compared to Bond’s previous missions. The James Bond films at this point were still popular (Thunderball was the highest grossing Bond film and praised by critics in both the UK and US on it’s initial release), but I feel that a few decades later that the film is only good for a few selected moments and gets tiresome in the middle section. The good bits in the film for me are the action scenes and some of the underused cheesy spy gadgets.
Despite how they are edited and sped-up, I like the action scenes such as the first prop-oriented fight scene involving Bond dropping entire shelves on a knife-wielding cross-dressing villain. I even love the back-stretcher scene which never fails to bring a smile to my face in it’s utter goofiness. I don’t know why they would create a device like this that can be set at lethal speeds, but I don’t really question much that happens in the Bond universe. If Bond wants to escape five feet away in a Jet Pack than that’s fine by me, too bad the rest of the movie is set underwater. Some of the gadgets that Bond gets from Q are boring as they aren’t flashy are there to just fill potential plot-holes. No one cares that Bond is popping pills so he can be tracked later on or that he has a camera that can take pictures of the Disco Volante underwater. BORING.
Fig 1: How to spot gadget quality in Thunderball
For the plot, the film begins to feel like a chore around the time the Avro Vulcan is hijacked and sinks in the water. It leads to a series of pretty tedious and episodic events that don’t advance the plot a great deal. It’s great that we get to see Domino in her black-and-white bikini and it’s fun to see Bond tossed in a pool full of live sharks, but do we have to sit through the rest of the plodding story to get to these parts? The rest of the underwater scenes go on for an eternity. Were they ever interesting? Even technically? You can get all these Connery-based spy scenes done better and just as many attractive Bond girls without these water scenes in the earlier films and without all the filler.
I’m not the first person to trash the underwater scenes, but I am someone who is actually fond of the final scene involving various spear-men attacking each other underwater. This scene is a surprisingly violent, involving lots of kills within the seven minutes. Being underwater also stops the amount of puns that Bond must be aching to deliver as he’s killing the SPECTRE agents off one by one. I like this scene, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s a bit chaotic. Terence Young didn’t like this scene either. He didn’t even like the whole film.
Not a great sign when the creator himself is trashing the film. If you didn’t like the earlier Bond films, than Thunderball will not change your mind. If you are someone who is willing to get up and do laundry or something in the middle part than you won’t miss too much and can find Thunderball to be a moderately enjoyable piece of sixties spy cinema. You can do much worse in the Bond series. How much worse? Check back in a few months when I get around to reviewing Never Say Never Again.